The original WTC 9/11 cover
  • The original WTC 9/11 cover

Composer Steve Reich's newest release, WTC 9/11, isn't an easy listen. Performed by Kronos Quartet, and fraught with soundbites taken from Reich-conducted interviews with people affected directly by the tragedy, the record incites a range of reactions: distress, anger, avoidance, you name it. Everyone has their own way of dealing with 9/11, and on the tenth anniversary of the event, our response to these memorials is particularly relevant.

The year 2011 has seen its share of controversial album covers, and Reich's original artwork depicting the second plane about to fly into the South tower is no exception. Pulled due to a backlash from many of his supporters, some have declared this censorship an outrage, while to those offended, the illustration was taken as a personal affront.

This territory isn't unfamiliar to Reich; the man is known for taking on difficult subject matter. His 1988 piece Different Trains (also recorded with Kronos Quartet) is a simulated account of what it's like to be headed for a concentration camp on a Nazi-operated train. The weighty pathos of Reich's work is often implicit in its interlocking, sublime orchestration, but Reich's incorporation of speech on WTC 9/11 makes for an even more immersive listening experience, which is further emphasized by his own outspokenness on the subject.

"9/11 is not an isolated event. It was sort of like the signpost, you know, over the whole planet, saying, 'Here comes a whole new chapter in world history.' When I interviewed every friend and every neighbor, I asked them one question which never appears in the piece, which is: 'Do you think this could happen again, and do you think it could happen again in New York?' And everybody said, "Do I think it could happen again? It's not a question of 'if,' it's a question of 'when.'" -Reich

Regardless of the potentially intimidating subject matter, serious listening is encouraged. The entire record is streaming now at NPR.


Steve Reich - "WTC 9/11: 2. 2010"